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Evelyn and Pepys

Alec Samuels

Evelyn (spelt Eveling in Pepys’ Diary) and Pepys were lifelong friends, sharing interests in business and pleasure and science and the arts and public life. They were both very similar in disposition, Evelyn being the more serious man. They often visited each other’s homes. Evelyn visited Pepys a fortnight or so before his death in 1703. They would walk together, e.g. in Westminster Hall, discussing gardening and books and prints and antiques. Both disliked the King’s favourites, and the corruption of public life, Evelyn especially so: “the vanity and vices of the Court which makes it a most contemptible thing” (29 January 1666 and 26 September 1666). Both were men of integrity in their time. Pepys nominated Evelyn for the Navy Board but nothing came of it. Both were royalists, though Pepys always had certain Cromwellian sympathies. Both opposed Catholicism. Pepys remained loyal to James II after the King’s flight in 1688, which caused him some difficulties; Evelyn was content to give the oath of allegiance to William and Mary.
Pepys always spoke most highly of Evelyn. “A worthy good man” (16 March 1669). “In all his discourse I find him a most worthy person”, “excellent discourse” (29 January 1666). “A most excellent-humoured man, and mighty knowing” (20 February 1666). “Touching all manner of learning, a very fine gentleman” (27 September 1665). “In fine a most excellent person, if a little conceited” (5 November 1665). Evelyn would read to Pepys from his own works, such as the garden book, and plays and poems; and he was an expert on paintings and watercolours (5 November 1665). The garden at Sayes Court was very fine, particularly evergreens and a substantial holly hedge (5 October 1665). Pepys described it as a “most beautiful place” (1 May 1665) and “a lovely noble ground” (5 May 1665). We “walked together in the garden, with mighty pleasure, he being a very ingenious man and the more I know him the more I love him” (29 April 1666). On another occasion they had a “fine discourse of trees and the native of vegetables” (6 October 1665). Both men bore responsibilities arising out of the troubles of the Dutch wars: they had a “discourse of our confounded business of prisoners and wounded seamen wherein he and we are so much put out of order” (5 October 1665).
Evelyn said of Pepys that he was a very worthy, industrious and curious person, none in England exceeding him in the knowledge of the Navy in which he passed through all the most considerable offices… all of which he performed with great integrity… and he was universally beloved, is hospitable, generous, learned in many things, skilled in music, a cherisher of learned men, of whom he had the conversation”. Evelyn was asked to be a pallbearer at the funeral but was too infirm.

Principal works on Evelyn, in addition to his own diaries are:
The writings of John Evelyn, ed Guy de la Bedoyere, Boydell and Brewer, 1995.
John Evelyn, Living for Ingenuity, Gillian Darley, Yale University Press 2006.
Particular Friends: The correspondence of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, Guy de la Bedoyere, 1997.
John Evelyn, Douglas D C Chambers, ODNB.
Kneller portraits are held in the National Portrait Gallery.